Advanced Coursework Equity Act is a Big Opportunity for Students of Color to Access Advanced Courses
Our national attention span is currently functioning like a TV that switches between several anxiety-inducing channels. On one channel: Schools are struggling to make the right decisions about reopening. Click: Economic downturn and families endlessly lined up at food banks. Click: Election-year mania. Click: Failed leadership in a public health crisis as coronavirus cases rise.
If you clicked through too quickly last week, however, you might have missed something small but important that happened on Capitol Hill. It didn’t catch national headlines, but the impact could be lasting and substantial for our nation’s most underserved kids.
That moment was the introduction of the Advanced Coursework Equity Act, a bill introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Joaquin Castro that would create an $800 million-dollar competitive grant program to increase the enrollment and support the performance of underrepresented students in advanced courses and programs.
Years of research from Ed Trust reveal that Black and Latino students across the country, experience inequitable access to advanced coursework opportunities (including gifted and talented programs, eighth grade Algebra, advanced placement (AP), international baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment programs), which results in these students missing out on vital learning opportunities that can set them up for success in college and careers. Ed Trust’s most recent report, “Inequities in Advanced Coursework: What’s Driving Them and What Leaders Can Do” addresses the racial barriers to rigorous coursework opportunities.
The data shows that, nationally, there are two primary drivers of these inequities:
- Schools that serve mostly Black and Latino students not enrolling as many students in advanced classes as schools that serve fewer Black and Latino students
- Schools — especially racially diverse schools — deny Black and Latino students access to those courses even when they offer them
However, fair access to these courses doesn’t mean sufficient access. Too many students attend schools that do not offer these opportunities at all. For example, before the COVID-19, 1 in 10 high school students attended a high school with no AP courses. As schools are faced with making cuts, even more students are at risk to attend schools that do not offer advanced courses. And even when schools do offer advanced courses, Black and Latino students are often locked out of those opportunities because teachers and counselors serve as gatekeepers to advanced courses.
The good news is: There are strategies that states can employ to close these opportunity gaps. Colorado, for example, has enrolled more Latino students in gifted and talented programs after the state began providing funding for districts to universally screen all students for gifted and talented programs. Washington state uses the state exam to automatically enroll high achieving students in advanced math, English, and science classes. Florida intentionally focuses on expanding access for underserved students through free PSAT tests to use a non-subjective measure to universally identify high-achieving Black and Latino students for advanced coursework and to better support those students by providing better professional development for teachers.
Senator Booker and Representative Castro’s bill gives schools the resources for even more states and districts to identify the students who are often locked out of these courses despite proven readiness. This bill would help to close opportunity gaps by implementing the practices and policies that we know work including: automatic enrollment policies, open enrollment, and universal screening; preparing more educators to teach advanced courses; offering a greater selection of courses; and covering course material and exam fees for students from low-income backgrounds.
Expanding advanced coursework opportunities for more students—especially for those who are most underserved by the current system—will be critical in preparing the next generation to be successful in college and careers in a post COVID-19 world. Also, when students take these advanced courses in high school, they will be better prepared for college, and will take on less debt in college because they won’t have to take non-credit barring remedial courses, and in some cases, they will receive college credit for courses that are required in college.
So, as you cycle from exhausting image to exhausting image, don’t tune out! Know that every once in a while, good things can and will happen for our nation’s kids. And no matter how small the change, you can make them a reality by encouraging your members of Congress to co-sponsor and pass the Advanced Coursework Equity Act today.